If one is to explore on Witters, Grice, meaning and... shall we use as
'keyword' USAGE,' and 'USE'. How? What is the underlying theory, if any?
In "Re: Witters & Sons -- does meaning equal use? What does this mean?" McEvoy
notes that he is 'obviously beating on a dead horse', implicating that his
intention is to resurrect it:
"[Speranza] misinterprets W[itters], in a typically Grice[i]an way, Let's
consider a few things W[itters] writes, and their likely point. "PI "43. For a
large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word "meaning"
it can be defined thus: the meaning of a
word is its use in the language. And the meaning of a name is sometimes
explained by pointing to its bearer." This is a rather different 'thesis' (if
it may be referred to as a 'thesis' at all) to saying 'meaning = usage'. And
also different to 'meaning = use' (if a distinction between 'use' and 'usage'
were thought important in this regard)."
Granted. It may be added that Grice speaks of "mean" (qua verb) because he
dislikes Peirce's 'kryptotechnical' jargon ("index," "sign," "symbol" -- I
don't). Witters we are reading via Anscombe's translation. There's "Meinung",
which is more like an opinion, and there is indeed, "meinen", which is more
like "to opine". And then there's "Bedeutung" and "Sinn". So one has to be
careful. Never mind 'usage'!
"Roughly what W[itters] writes is to this effect: 'how the words are used'
gives us their meaning in a large class of classes but not all. So the
equivalence is not complete."
Well, there may be an implicature. One example by Grice:
i. I know that the number of stars is infinite.
This Grice deems 'stupid' (thing to say). Similarly, I'm not surprised Witters
trying to be cautious speaks of "a LARGE class." Anyone who has read Morgan or
Jevons (nineteenth-century logicians) are well aware that such phrases can
always disimplicate with a continuation like, "For a LARGE class of cases, IF
NOT ALL". Since Witters did not explicate, "if not all," we cannot assume that
he is REJECTING the "if not all". If he had some suspicion that for some "not
so large" class, there thing does not hold, he would have said it.
"But, then, how are they used in that large class of cases? How can we
establish 'how they are used' without knowing the meaning of the words? It
might seem W[itters] must be getting into a logical twist here. But this is, I
think, to misinterpret his intentions and his point of view - according to that
point of view, looking at 'how words are used' usually turns out to be more
useful to understand their meaning than, say, treating words as having meaning
by virtue of what they signify (see below, re what W[itters] says about
'signifying' in an earlier section of PI)."
Well, but 'use' and 'usage' are ambiguous. Grice gives an example. He has a
paper holder (if that's the name of the tool -- he just refers to it as a
"brass plaque"), with the shape of the word "MOTHER". But the usage of the
paper holder (if that's the name of the tool) is to hold papers (not to be
swept by the wind). When he using this tool, to hold papers, Grice is NOT using
the word 'mother'. The only use words have is, Grice concludes, "to
communicate." "This is so obvious that I should hardly need to say it!"
(For Chomsky, there's a debate as to whether expression is prior to
"In a way, in a sense, W[itters] proposes that we look at what words are doing
or being used to do - we should not begin as if the words themselves provide
the key to their meaning. W[itters] does not think this is obscure rather than
everyday wisdom, but W[itters] does think it is something we tend to forget
when we start to examine language for its meaning in a philosophical way (we
don't tend to forget it in everyday contexts). Later-W[itters] nowhere claims
that he knows 'how we use words' in any deeper sense (of, say, explanation)
than might be given by anyone who understands 'how we use words' in everyday
terms (or in the terms relevant to the language-game in which those words are
used). Indeed one of W[itters]'s central points in PI is to show that there is
no way of expressing 'meaning' or 'how we use words' in any such deeper sense.
But W[itters] doesn't say this - he tries to show this. Central to this are
what are sometimes called, though not by W[itters] [but by the
Kripkensteinians], the "rule-following considerations".] Another question, for
that large class, is what kind of 'equivalence' is it? One of identity etc.? If
W[itters] had a philosophical theory or thesis here, PI would surely present it
somewhere. But it is not an equivalence of a theoretical kind, or
defended/expounded as such."
Well, it may be traced to Witters's early logicism. He was aware (as an
Austrian engineer trying to learn about logic) that the 'use' of 'symbols' in a
symbolic notation, say, may be given a technical formulation, as in Hilbert's
formalism, say. He may be having Frege in mind, too.
"it is much more practical and non-theoretical an 'equivalence' - for that
large class, establishing 'how words are being used' will also amount to
establishing 'the meaning of the words used'. But, again, how do we establish
how words are being used? Well, W[itters] shows that we may 'establish' their
meaning in many, many ways - but in none that amount to a 'theory of meaning',
or which provide undefeasible criteria for meaning, or which provide a proper
basis for any of the kinds of intellectualised account that might be thought to
be to the purview of the philosopher (of language, or of meaning)."
This seems to presuppose that these criteria have to be undefeasible. G. P.
Baker's claim to fame (he succeeded Grice as philosophy don at St. John's) was
his 'defeasible criterial semantics' (as in his contribution to the Hart
festschrift, "Defeasibility and meaning"). So one has to be careful. And yes,
Baker is a Wittgensteinian. His contribution to the _Grice_ festschrift
(PGRICE, Philosophical grounds of rationality) was on "Alternative mind styles"
(meaning Frege and Witters), and prefacing it with, "Only Grice will accept my
criticism of his theory as a tribute!" (Hacker's humour is drier, slightly).
"We should perhaps remember what W[itters] says earlier about 'signifying', and
about the idea that meaning is established or explained in terms of how words
signify. What he there says, shows how the idea that "Every word in language
signifies something" hardly explains anything or gives even the slightest
genuine explanation in general terms (though it might have some 'use' if we
apply it by way of contrast to words in Lewis Carroll). The same may be said
about the alleged equivalence of meaning and use/usage - this equivalence does
not explain 'use' or 'meaning' in any further sense (or in the sense in which
bacteria might 'explain' bacterial infection, or gravity the path of the moon):
even where the equivalence holds, it is not that use explains meaning or
meaning explains use, or that the general equivalence of meaning and use
provide an explanation for the actual specific meaning and use. The
[McEvoy]-interpretation of W[itters] is this: for W[itters], the specifics of
actual meaning and actual use are shown by how we use language but are not
expressed or said by anything (including the language used). For W[itters],
there is no way 'to say the sense of language' in language - only to show it -
so there cannot be a 'theory of meaning' that expresses how language has sense.
And W[itters]'s equivalence of meaning with use, for a large class of cases,
cannot properly be understood as offering any such 'theory of meaning' or even
the beginnings of one - rather it is part of a point of view from which such a
'theory of meaning' is a chimera."
And the issue resolves as to whether it (the chimaera) can feed on second
"Here is what W earlier says in PI about 'signifying' (in terms of it being a
purported explanation). PI:- "13. When we say: "Every word in language
signifies something" we have so far said nothing whatever; unless we have
explained exactly what distinction we wish to make. (It might be, of course,
that we wanted to distinguish the words of language (8) from words 'without
meaning' such as occur in Lewis Carroll's poems, or words like "Lilliburlero"
He (Witters) shouldn't treat the Revd. C. L. Dodgson, student at Christ Church,
so lightly. But then I can understand Witters: he is Cantab. and there is a
general Cantab. antipathy for Carrolliana. As Humpty Dumpty tells Alice in the
Alice books, "By 'impenetrability', I mean that we should change the subject."
So, it's what Humpty Dumpty MEANS that matter, not what a word (say,
'impenetrability') means. Witters ignores this basic distinction in the English
use of "mean" (it applies to words, but mostly to 'utterers').
"Liliburlero" may be different, but thought meaningful enough to be parodied by
Gay in "The Beggar's Opera".
McEvoy: "14. Imagine someone's saying: "All tools serve to modify something.
Thus the hammer modifies the position of the nail, the saw the shape of the
board, and so on."—And what is modified by the rule, the glue-pot, the
nails?—"Our knowledge of a thing's length, the temperature of the glue, and the
solidity of the box."——Would anything be gained by this assimilation of
expressions?— 15. The word "to signify" is perhaps used in the most
straightforward way when the object signified is marked with the sign. Suppose
that the tools A uses in building bear certain marks. When A shews his
assistant such a mark, he brings the tool that has that mark on it. It is in
this and more or less similar ways that a name means and is given to a
thing.—It will often prove useful in philosophy to say to ourselves: naming
something is like attaching a label to a thing.""
By introducing talk of 'signs,' Witters is bringing back St. Augustine (or
Augustine if you must) and he (Witters) should have been familiar with Peirce
and what Peirce said about 'signifying' (in his "General Theory of Signs," on
which Grice lectured at Oxford and which gave him the idea to provide a better
conceptual analysis of a counterpart notion, the Anglo-Saxon, "to mean").
McEvoy: "Now this is so easy to misread. When W[itters] gets to the end of 15
we could misread him as endorsing how useful it is in philosophy to treat
naming as a form of labelling: but this is not his point of view at all and his
example in 15 (of tools with marks) parallels the absurdity of the shopkeeper
with his apple-tables. The key to the sense of the "certain marks"' is that
"When A shews..." those "certain marks" then the assistant brings the relevant
tool: but it would be a misinterpretation to think W[itters] is suggesting this
shows that those "certain marks" on the tool, and those shown to the assistant,
provide a correlation that explains the meaning - on the contrary, it is the
meaning shown that explains the sense of the correlation rather than the
correlation that shows that meaning. How is the meaning shown? For example, by
the way "When A shews..." then the assistant brings the relevant tool. When
W[itters] speaks of what proves "useful in philosophy to say to ourselves" the
sense of phrasing should not be overlooked (as [Speranza] rightly picks up on
the conversational use of "Well..." in the passage about apple-tables):"
Good you found that right! I never know what the implicature of conversational
initial 'well' is, though. Indeed, a conversationalist who abuses 'well' may be
A: What will the weather be tomorrow?
B: Well, the forecast says it's going to rain.
The implicature seems to turn B's move ("It's going to rain") into a more
guarded thing. Perhaps this use of 'well' is a Latinism? I can't think of the
Angles and the Saxons prefacing their remarks with "Well,...". Anscombe
possibly used 'Well, ...' a lot, but I'm sure there's a Teutonic she is
attempting to translate. These particles are the hardest to learn in any
language -- especially Tagalog --, and its incorrect implicature can lead to
A: What's your name?
B: Well, Alice. And yours?
A: Well, Humpty Dumpty.
A: Well what?
A: What's your name?
B: Well, Alice.
A: What d'you mean, 'well'?
-- end of excursus on "Well, ..." ----
McEvoy: "it is something we "say to ourselves" as if it helps -"
Well, to say to myself seems otiose. It's like when Carroll writes that Alice
"thought to herself". I mean, who else is she supposed to think to?
Admittedly, 'ourselves' may mean Witters and Lizzie Anscombe, in which case
apologies! (But I guess Witters is using the majestic Victorian 'we' -- 'we are
not amused' -- "we say to ourselves").
McEvoy: "but of course to say naming is like labelling does not explain naming
in terms of labelling or labelling in terms of naming (no more that 'meaning
equals use' explains meaning by use or use by meaning). W[itters] fundamental
point of view is this (though this may only gradually emerge, especially after
the 'rule-following considerations'): the actual specifics, of how "certain
marks" on the tools may be connected in meaning to "certain marks" shown the
assistant, is not expressed by the marks themselves but is shown by various
things - including that "When A shews..." the "certain marks" then the
assistant brings the relevant tool."
I see. I should revise Grice's way of phrasing the slogan, "Meaning is use",
and how he saw it as being superseded by the time he was delivering the
"Prolegomena to Logic and Conversation" into its contrary slogan: "Meaning is
anything BUT use."
But thanks for the brilliant quotes, which can also be expanded and actually
understood rather than misunderstood! Thanks for the exegeses!